Finding magic and legend in a sleepy Welsh village.

WP_20140522_12_21_17_ProMyddfai is little more than a cluster of pastel-coloured cottages encircling a church. Yet, in the 11th and 12th centuries it was a centre for healing, inhabited by the Physicians of Myddfai, renowned across Wales. The remedies of these herbalists were recorded in the Red Book of Hergest; one of the most important medieval manuscripts written in the Welsh language.


WP_20140522_12_00_59_ProBeyond the little village, a lane takes you up to the mountain of Myddfai. This is where the physicians gathered the herbs and flowers used in their remedies.  Beyond Myddfai is the Black Mountain range and the mountain lake of Llyn y Fan Fach.

The first physician of Myddfai was named Rhiwallon. He was court physician to Rhys Gryg, Lord of Dinefwr Castle, about 1200AD. Rhiwallon was awarded land at Myddfai and he treated the poor for free. He passed on his knowledge to his descendants who carried on his work for over 500 years. Legend has it that Rhiwallon was the oldest of three sons born to ‘The Lady of the Lake’ who is said to have appeared at Llyn y Fan Fach, pictured above. The tale of The Lady of the Lake is one of those recorded in the Mabinogion.

According to the legend, a farmer once saw a beautiful woman sitting on a rock in Llyn-y-Fan Fach. After three refusals, she agreed to marry him so long as he promised to treat her well. But should he strike her three times without cause, she told him, she would return to the lake. The farmer then took her to live with him in Myddfai .

The lady had mystical powers of prediction and cried at her first son’s christening because she saw he would be harmed by the sun. Mystified by his wife’s tears, the farmer tapped her once to bring her to her senses. Soon after, she cried at a wedding because she saw the bridegroom was going to die soon. Her husband now tapped her for crying at a wedding. When she laughed at the bridegroom’s funeral because his suffering was over, the farmer tapped her again and the lady sped back to the lake. The heartbroken farmer was left to raise their three sons, alone.

The sons inherited their mother’s magical knowledge and powers. The Lady of the Lake reappeared to Rhiwallon upon Myddfai mountain and told him it was his mission to relieve mankind from misery and pain. She gave him a bag of medicinal remedies and instructed him on how to use them. So began the long line of the Physcians of Myddfai.

Incidentally, as we walked along the lane, I spotted two herbs growing in the hedgerow.

WP_20140522_12_19_14_ProOne was Comfrey (left) and the other was Yellow Archangel WP_20140522_12_12_14_Pro__highres

I like to think that these plants, too, may be descended from a long line of those picked by the famed Physicians.

Did you know the remedies have been published? Available here;

Jenny Lloyd is the Welsh author of The Megan Jones trilogy, historical suspense novels set in early, 19th century, rural Wales.

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The healing power of nature.

In my novel, Leap the Wild Water, there is a market-place scene where Megan is introduced to an elderly woman called Martha. Martha is a healer, selling the potions she has made. She embarrasses Megan when offering her a small bottle of Heartsease essence for mending broken hearts.

Martha has a sixth sense for the underlying cause of Megan’s unhappiness. It was this intuitive sixth-sense which set people like Martha apart from others. From ancient times, knowledge of healing herbs was passed down orally through the generations. Ordinary people had a wealth of knowledge about how to treat common ailments which afflicted them or their families.  Women like Martha were consulted when usual treatments were ineffective and more intuitive or specialist knowledge was required.


When researching my family history I discovered that my great-great-great grandmother, Mary Jones, nee Morgan, was a herbalist of some renown. Born in 1796, near Strata Florida Abbey (picture above)she moved to Breconshire, Wales in 1838. It was said that people came from all over the county and beyond for her cures, travelling many miles on foot or horseback. Though no written or oral record survives of the remedies she used, they were likely to have been her own unique combinations of plants which were commonly used to treat ailments at that time.

I suppose it must be from this ancestor that I have inherited my love of wildflowers and fascination with their past usage. Personally, I believe that just to walk among nature’s bounty is healing in itself. Walking the Welsh mountains and vales has provided great comfort to me when I have needed it.

Below I have listed a few of the plants which were widely used;

  • The bilberries which grow in profusion on the slopes of Welsh mountains were used to treat eye problems. Their efficacy has been borne out in more recent times when British pilots in WW2 were given supplies of bilberry jam to aid their night time vision.
  • Pictured above growing in an old quarry, Coltsfoot flower tea was an old remedy for coughs. Also, the shredded leaves were smoked in a pipe to ease a bad cough.
  • Dandelion was used to treat diseases of the liver and kidneys. I remember as a child being told that if you picked dandelion flowers you would wet the bed. This was a corruption of the truth as dandelion was originally used to cure bed-wetting in children.
  • The flowers and berries of Elder were used to treat colds and fevers.
  • The aptly named Feverfew, above, was used to treat fevers and is also known to be an effective remedy for migraines.
  • The use of Mugwort can be traced back to pagan times. Mugwort placed under the pillow at night was deemed to produce prophetic dreams. It was also worn as an amulet to ward off evil. The famed physicians of Myddfai, in 13th century Wales, recommended hanging it in the house to ward off flies and fleas. Burning Mugwort inside the house was said to ward off bad spirits.
  • Nettle was an ancient remedy for gout.
  • Plantain leaves were used as a poultice for wounds.
  • red poppy
  • Pictured above, another remedy offered by the 13th century physicians of Myddfai was an infusion of boiled red poppy seed-heads to aid sleep.
  • The appropriately named Self-heal was used to staunch bleeding and treat wounds.
  • The effectiveness of St John’s Wort for the treatment of depression has been proven, like many other old remedies, by modern day science.
  • An infusion of Wild rose petals was a popular and effective remedy for a broken heart, as was the Heartsease mentioned above.
  • Wood Betony, above, was a common cure for those plagued by nightmares and insomnia.
  • Yarrow was valued for its properties of divination.

Herbalists like my ancestor were also guided by the Doctrine of Signatures in divining which plants to use. According to this ancient wisdom, each and every medicinal plant carries a ‘signature’ which donates its proper usage. For example, the spotted leaves of the lungwort plant (pictured above) were said to resemble the insides of lungs, and walnuts were used to treat diseases of the brain due to their strong resemblance to the lobes of the brain. Here is a link to an article on the Doctrine of Signatures on Wikipedia.   Please do not try remedies at home without verifying their safe usage!

Jenny Lloyd is the Welsh author of The Megan Jones trilogy; historical suspense novels set in early, 19th century, rural Wales.

Leap the Wild Water new book cover meadow        The Calling of the Raven updated book cover     Anywhere the Wind Blows Book Cover - jpg


You can read about the books or purchase them by clicking on the links below.

Leap the Wild Water:

The Calling of the Raven:

Anywhere the Wind Blows:

You can also follow the author: